In her enormously important book, Going Southern, Deborah Levine takes the inquisitive reader deep into many aspects of life in the South, Southern culture, and other things people need to know about us Southern folks.
And she courageously touches on the thorny issue of race as an undeniable part of southern history. Her experiences and mine are about occasionally stepping into racial landmines, reconciliation, contrition and hope.
When I arrived at Chattanooga’s Second Missionary Baptist Church, A true Southern gentleman, Pastor Paul McDaniel, met me personally met at the door. Born in Rock Hill, South Carolina, Pastor McDaniel has been part of the Southern landscape and its African American community for most of his life. After attending Morehouse College in Atlanta, he received a Masters of Divinity degree from Colgate-Rochester Divinity School and a Masters of Arts degree from the University of Rochester in New York. A Chattanooga resident since 1966, Rev. McDaniel stepped down from his post at the Second Missionary Baptist Church after almost 50 years of service. A larger-than-life figure in the community, I share our conversation in his honor.
How do Chattanooga’s women overcome obstacles to Think Big and help others do the same? Chattanooga’s Lean In – Women Groundbreakers tackled the question at their September Think Tank meeting. Their Success Stories and How-to Stories have inspired family members, colleagues, friends, community leaders, church youth groups, and former inmates. The Words of Wisdom from these groundbreakers will inspire you, too.
Ardena Garth Hicks was the first African American female public defender in Tennessee’s Hamilton County. When the State of Tennessee created the office of public defenders 18 years ago, it was an appointed position by the Governor. Ardena was the only applicant with both defense and prosecutorial experience. Of the 27 initially appointed public defenders, only two were black females.
Morris Dees, Founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), was the featured speaker at the Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga annual First Amendment dinner. Mr. Dees was introduced by Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke. Mayor Berke, a member of Chattanooga’s Jewish community was comfortable in the Federation setting and shared that he was not wearing a tie due to the well-known perils of ketchup. Picking up on the informality, Dees removed his own tie and listened, along with a packed house, to the mayor’s remarks.
A few years ago I had the task of preparing a dozen mid-level managers from a large German corporation that was establishing itself in South Carolina. As part of the training, I conducted a role-play in which one of the employees, on a Saturday morning, heard a knock on the door.
The woman opened the imaginary door and, standing in front of her, I said, “Hello M’am, my name is George Simons. I just live down the street, and I was wondering what church you go to…” She slammed the door in my face. In debriefing the incident, the woman felt she was being belittled by being called “M’am,” and that this “intruder” had invaded her private sphere. Slamming the door was the best way to make it clear that neither of these was acceptable.
The good people of the First Waughtown Baptist Church were consumed by utter jubilation – it was Baptism Sunday. Wearing the best of their Sunday best they sang hymns as they proceeded to the banks of the Belview Creek not far from the Church and just beyond the old Belview School. The candidate for baptism was none other than my mother’s distant relation Brother Hines. Bro Hines hailed from a strong old Baptist family and his people were numbered amongst the founders of First Waughtown and it’s mother church First Baptist Winston and his father was a Baptist pastor of the family church in Davidson County.
Although my grandmother has been dead, for over ten years her cousin Magalene Dulin Gaither, still refers to me as “Betty’s grandson.” Magalene, while mature in age is far from being absentminded as a matter of fact, she reigns as a sort of Queen Mother of Davie County. She is active in a number of civic and social organizations; she organizes weddings; her phone is the first to ring upon a death – even before the undertaker; she writes, directs and produces dramatic performances; she is an acclaimed historian, educator, and musician; she assists folks with their college thesis and anyone seeking public office or any other place of notoriety is sure to ring her phone and to knock at her door to receive her blessings. In the words of our late cousin, Sadie Dulin Jones, “if Mrs. Gaither doesn’t know about it, then it just didn’t happen…”
I got into a fight at church last night.
Furthermore, I got into a fight, at church, over sweet tea.
I had brought my small son to youth group at a church I went to years ago as a teen before I went to college. We moved back home last year, and this is only his second time to go. I am not overly-religious, but around here, church is the main social hub for the kids, with sports being the second.
The discussion of diversity in the South brought to mind a few experiences I have personally had. It goes without saying that people from different geographical areas in the United States, and the world for that matter, are different in many ways. Speaking in the distinctive Southern dialect, I am often set apart from my peers, students, friends, and professional in the United States and internationally.